This is the transcript for for the video Master of Animation and Visualisation

Matt Estela 0:10
So, what’s more, thanks for thanks for coming in.
I’d like to start with an acknowledgement of country, so I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation upon whose ancestral lands the UTS city campus now stands. I’d also like to pay respect to the elders past and present, acknowledging them as the traditional custodians of knowledge of this land.

At UTS we also recognise that rich indigenous cultural storytelling and at the Academy we’re proud to continue this tradition as stories are such a powerful way of connecting to each other.

Alright, so a welcome all. So I’ll go through who we are. So my name is Matt Estela. I’m the VFX lead in residence here at ALA and…

Ben Skinner 0:50
I am Ben Skinner. I was a student at the a ALA and then I kind of worked there and now I’m in Toronto, Canada at Tangent Animation working in pipeline.

Matt Estela 1:02
And so this webinar, we try and have a theme of sorts for each webinar we do. And so we thought this one we’d talk about international career opportunities within this industry and how on, how the MAV can help. So let’s move on to this a little bit of the usual overview of who we are and what we do.

So the usual preamble we will be recording this. So people on the webinar side you won’t be seen or heard, so don’t worry about that but we will we will be answering your questions as part of this recording. So if you’re not OK with that,let us know but if you’r OK, cool. All right.

So, of course, that’s how you ask on zoom we’ll talk to people that are listening. That
is awesome. So use that Q&A box. All right. So let’s get going.

So let’s do that little intro again. Here’s us, ooh, like, I never liked that picture. So, I’m Matt Estela. I’m the visual effects lead here at UTS ALA and…

Ben Skinner 2:09
Still the pipeline technical director of Tangent animation in Canada. Mm hmm.

Matt Esteler 2:14
That’s a beautiful photo today…

Ben Skinner
One of my best.

Matt Esteler
So what we’re gonna talk about, so a bit of an overview of who we are and what we do, some of the projects we’ve worked on, and some of the career opportunities in this industry and how ALA can help you get there and of course, a q&a. So let’s move on.

So what is the UTS ALA? So I always call it the UTS ALA. I, let me change the screen… So that didn’t go so well, alright. So UTS ALA. We are a collaboration between UTS and the animation studio Animal Logic based in Sydney.

We were set up to recognise; we kind of recognised that there was a gap in the industry where, where a lot of students were finding it difficult to find work. At the same time, a lot of studios, not just Animal Logic, but in Australia and around the world, were finding it, were finding students didn’t quite have the skills required to get a job in the industry.

So we decided that we would set this up to try and strengthen our local talent pool. And also noticed, focusing on the visual effect side, both in film and TV but also trying to anticipate what’s coming up next. So we do a lot of work in virtual reality and augmented reality and other sort of emerging tech spaces.

So probably the biggest part of what the academy does is the is the Masters of Animation and Visualisation, called MAV for short. So it’s a one year accelerated masters, most masters tend to be one and a half to two years, we try and fit that into one year. And a big feature of what we do here is that it is we try and run this, as much as we can, like an actual studio. A line do we hear a lot from our graduates is when they drop into an actual studio, they say, oh, this feels just like it was at the MAV. Ben back me up on that.

Ben Skinner 4:23
And that’s one of the best things I kind of got out of it. It was that real world kind of environment. And like, it wasn’t something that I was expecting to be one of the big things, but just being there, kind of full time on campus was really good.

And it’s kind of as I’ve been transitioned into work over here, it’s, it’s felt like home, almost like it’s just kind of mapped up really well.

Matt Esteler 4:44
Awesome. And so part of that is is that we are very much a learning by doing, so, we’ve had a few people that have come in the first month or two kind of saying, “So when do my classes start, when do the new classes start?” And we don’t really do that, we just jump straight into making a short film, making projects, pitching work and people learn by doing.

The other big aspects of the work we do here is that it is collaboration. So a lot of people coming in from other courses will have, you know, they’ll have done team projects involving, say four people, five people, when really, when you’re working in a studio, you’re working in a team of 30, 40 ,100, 200 people. You know it’s big, big teams. And so here for the first semester, when we start to work on our short films, you’ll have the entire cohort working together on the one film and people get used to that, that intense collaboration process.

We run this like a studio so we don’t just use some kind of simplified versions of the software. We go to the same toolkit, the same technology as used at most studios. In fact, in some cases, because we can, I guess, move fast and break thing, we can almost jump ahead of what the industry does.

So a good example of some of, the, some of the technology Ben, Ben was working on and pioneered, which was using Pixar USD technology, which was only really used in Pixar and a little bit at some studios. And when Ben started with us in 2018, he helped develop a whole pipeline based around USD. And now we’re seeing a lot of other industry studios coming up to meet us with that. In fact, you can probably hint to the work you’re doing now at Tangent Ben?

Ben Skinner 6:32
I can, it’s definitely funny that we were kind of working on it in 2018. And as a team, we were like, kind of putting out some YouTube videos. And now kind of as I’m in the industry, people have watched those eary things that we were doing and it’s, you know, a lot of the other graduates, as they’ve gotten into roles, specifically with Pixar Universal Scene Description, it’s like, hey, can you help me on that thing? And then they’re like, oh, sure. And it’s turned out quite well.

I just saw Mohammed asked the question as well and it’s just kind of about how studio experience for new hires and it kind of maps into what we’re just talking about. And one of the big things for me choosing to do the MAV was that at the end of the year, not only do I have a Masters, but I had one year of industry experience equivalence that kind of mapped up.

Matt Esteler 7:17
Yup, sorry, you’ve finished talking? Cool. I’ll visit the industry lead components.

The three leads we have at the moment, we’ve all been doing this for a while, I think, no, wait, we’ve worked out how long we’ve worked in the industry and it’s like something like about 300 years, in dog years, of industry experience. It’s a lot of years. I almost don’t want to count it, but I’ve been doing this for about 20 years. I think Dan’s been doing this for maybe 12 -15; Alex’s been doing it for about 20/25 years. Well, we’ve been doing this for a while.

And in terms of guest speakers for the master classes we are completely shameless in terms of leaning on all of our industry, friends and contacts. So we have a very close working relationship with Animal logic, so if there’s anything that we’re not familiar with or don’t know, which isn’t much, we can always contact Animal Logic and they are fantastic in terms of getting people in to help.

So we’ve had, you know, the, the rigging supervisors at Animal Logic in, we’ve had R&D people, we’ve had services, we’ve had modellers, we’ve had, even in terms of production. We were very lucky when we wanted to have a little master class in terms of what is production? What is that side of the industry? We didn’t just get one, but we got three top line producers from Animal Logic in to have a chat and talk about the work. It’s fantastic.

Global industry exposure. So not only do we get people from Animal in but again, people from around the world in. So we’ve had guest speakers from Framestore, from Epic, from all kinds of places. And also we are getting recognised around the world. It’s pretty remarkable how quickly we went from, you know, we’ve only been around for about four years, but, you know, when we went to SIGGRAPH our name was getting recognised? You know, the kind of awards we’re winning, the kind of, sort of, notice we’re getting it’s, it’s cool. Like now, we’re now a player, that I think would take most schools quite a while to get up to that echelon, we’re already kind of hitting that, which is great.

And as I mentioned before, we don’t just work on film but we really want to try and get get people ready for, not just film and the effects but, but anything involving, involving visuals. So we do quite a lot of AR and VR work. We do a lot of real time work. We’re doing some some, some, data vis work. We want people to be ready for any kind of, any kind of experience of making visuals, for any kind of medium.

Aah, but, sliding sideways a bit into what Ben will be talking about. It’s a pretty common misconception that this industry is only for animators and modellers and it’s not that at all. I always like to say that this industry, there is a spectrum of skills required. And so, on one end might have say, pure, say, artistic people like say, concept artists. And right on the other end, you’ve got pure RNG coders and developers. But in the middle is a spectrum of all these different kinds of roles that have a different ratio of artists versus technical.

And we have, and so we try and develop a strong coding background here. So we try and give everyone as much exposure to that side as they want. So we’ve had people come in from from a pure computer science backgrounds, and they drop in and they learn what it is to be, what’s called, a technical director, in this industry.

And maybe Ben, you want to talk about a bit about your experience and how you fell into your roles here.

Ben Skinner 10:55
Yeah, yeah, sure. So my background kind of was that technical side of things. I studied a Bachelor of Programming at, kind of, an Australian college called the Academy of Interactive Entertainment, and got my degree with the Cambria Institute of Technology. And I kind of came out of that with, you know, good solid programming skills and a kind of a love for creating things and being creative.

And I kind of came to the MAV and I was like, this, this kind of degree would be kind of perfect to kind of extending those skills to something that can become a little bit more, you know, transferable into the industry. And kind of coming out of that, we kind of like what Matt was saying, I discovered that it wasn’t like, I’m going to be a programmer on this end, or I want to be an artist on that end, I’ve just kind of lived in that range, kind of going back and forth. And it’s kind of kind of exciting, just, you know, kind of becomes like, you’ve got to pick the right tool for the right job. And that was one of the things that the MAV kind of, you know, showed me that could be an option, which I kind of hadn’t really thought about before.

Matt Esteler 11:57
Yeah, cool. Spinning through these other developments quickly. It’s also a common misconception that to work in this industry, even if you want to do a more technical role, that you have to be an amazing artist, illustrator, you have to have had sculpting experience. It’s not like that at all. You just have to have an interest.

Oftentimes, the roles for, the technical roles within this industry are more about supporting artists. And so I think a nice point of differentiation of learning the technical craft with a MAV versus doing a more traditional data science degree or better augmenting on top of a computer science degree, is that, is that sense of it’s not all kind of, you know, design documents up front and class structures and diagrams.

It’s very much you have to talk to artists and say, “Well, what is the problem that you are trying to solve?”, and you have to go away and think about it and then present stuff back and then keep iterating. This industry is really big on, on lots of iteration, lots of versions and feedback.

But that goes for the coding side as well. And so the coders have to get used to, you’re never hitting like a version one, perfect solution. You are just constantly refining and polishing until it’s good enough that you are helping save time and money.

Ben Skinner 13:20
I think that’s one of the things that MAV does really well because it’s those interpersonal skills that you get, because you’re all in the one space. It’s kind of a bit open plan. And just kind of the interactions, you get a lot of artists to kind of like, well, I just got to model this thing by hand over and over and over again. And it’s kind of on the technical side where you can say well we can kind of automate it this way or we could make it a little bit more procedural with Houdini and it’s, yeah, it really fosters that kind of, those relationships.

Matt Esteler 13:45
Yeah. And it is worth pointing out with that with that last bullet point slide that again, because of that, that the common misconception or everyone sort of defaults, thinking of, if I want to work in this industry, I’m going to be a modeller or animator, it means that a lot of undergraduates just aren’t aware of all these other different kinds of roles, especially the more technical roles.

What that translates to is that, generally speaking, there are more modellers and animators around than there are jobs available. But there’s always a shortage of good technical people. And so, of all of our graduates from past three years, all of our more technically inclined, inclined folks have had found work almost straightaway.

Things have worked on. We’ve worked on all kinds of things. Again, as I mentioned before, we’ve been in this industry for a long, long time. So we’ve worked on all kinds of films, both good and some not so good but you know, experience is good.

And let’s talk about that what you do in the year here. So we run three sessions. It’s a long year so we start in January and end in November and it is nine to five, Monday to Friday. We, compared to a lot of other masters courses that have sort of maybe occasional contact with your, with your staff, sorry, with your kind of teaching leads, we are here with the same schedule, 9-5 Monday to Friday. So, again, replicating that Studio experience, so you get to see your staff and your leads all the time.

The first semester, we work on VFX. So that’s where we will work out an idea for a short film, and we will develop it and get it up to, I guess the closest analogy in the VFX side is what’s called temp, where you get it up to a stage where we have each shot is, it’s completed to some capacity. So it’s not final yet but we have a pretty good sense of what the film is. So we’ve got to now you can say roughly, it’s about halfway complete.

We then put the film on pause for a bit and in the second semester, we work on anything new say any sort of emerging technology. And so the groups have to go research everything, which is sort of no new and hot and now. Then they have to pitch ideas in that space. And then they, and so then they will then break up into small teams where they have to sell that idea. And what’s interesting is all the skills they learned in terms of making a short film in the first semester, they then have to really apply and kind of showcase in this semester.

So whereas in the first semester, it’s everyone so, so this year, it was all 42 students working on one film we then break into seven teams. So each team has maybe say five or six people, and they have to run and gun and kind of whatever skills they have, they’ve got to really step up and showcase to make the best possible pitch they can make.

And then in the third semester, we we will pick one of those, one of those emerging tech ideas and we will, we’ll finish it to a really high quality, as well as finish the short film.

So the third studio, when people walk in visitors and stuff in the morning go, oh, this just feels like a working animation studio, because that’s kind of what it is. It’s just people just, just, there, knuckling down and getting it done.

And then we race for the finish line, which is around the end of November. And we have a big showcase party and that’s when we’re done. What was your memory of that year Ben?

Ben Skinner 17:26
Look, it got intense at times, but it was very fulfilling, and it was never more intense than I could handle. And it was kind of, at every point where there might have been, like a faltering of, like, I don’t know what to do, the leads were like always there to, you know, guide and then give kind of, you know, experience in some context to it all.

And I think just being in the same boat with, with the whole cohort, you know, it created relationships that I still have, even today. And at the end of the year, we’d had this studio experience and we’d had, you know, we created some some really good stuff that I’m still proud of today.

Matt Esteler 18:02
Yeah. Awards. We’re getting recognised. So we’re winning awards for all kinds of things. We’re getting lots of amazing feedback from industry. We’ve got a really high graduate rate and something that we’re pretty proud of is the gender splits. This industry tends to skew quite heavy male versus female but we’re now, sort of, like, pulling it back more towards 50/50 and we’re hoping that that can be the, sort of, be the change we want to see in the world. And we’re doing some pretty cool research as well.

So as well as the masters, the MAV, we have a pretty active PhD strain which is doing all kinds of very cool research and that’s, that’s getting recognised, we’re getting some quite good funding into that. So if anyone’s interested in a PhD you should also look into that.

Some of the projects we’ve worked on. So running it through, so as I said, every year we make a short film, and we make some sort of real time projects. Some years, we get very ambitious and we might do two real time projects. But as well as that, as part of the research side, one of our, one of our research, research students, is that what we call them research student? research candidate, he’s working, specifically in making kind of hybrid short films, and that’s getting recognised.

So that was Jasper. And that’s gotten all kinds of awards. It’s very cool. You should check it out if you haven’t seen it yet. Ben, you worked directly on The Colour Thief and on Explore, which isn’t on this list. That’s outrageous. But you had a hand in most of these in some capacity. So Terrachi was before your time as was Jasper, but everything else he did had a bit of a…

Ben Skinner 19:57
Little bit of a touch. I mean, lots of other people as well, but it was really fun to kind of you know, jump around between different ideas and different stories to tell over that kind of one idea of, you know, solving things with technology and kind of everything that the MAV offers.

Matt Esteler 20:09
Yeah. And I think what, what I’m quite proud of as well is that we really do sort of try and, well, actually, I was gonna say, we really try, really hard, but it’s actually we don’t, this this almost kind of happens as a byproduct.

So every year we ask the students to give us ideas for films and real time projects. It just gets workshopped and we’ll kind of discuss it and play with it in different ways and just naturally, we end up with these quite diverse worlds. And so the fact that we’ve had an any themed world, two baroque underwater worlds, dystopian sci fi world, and all our more, I guess, sort of creative visual style students can just, they just go and research and they just do sort of incredible style situation stuff, some of which you can see behind me here.

That was before and again, just having, it’s amazing where we say right here is our brief and the kind of thing we’re going for, show us what this world is. And within a week, we’ll generate hundreds of pieces of artwork where you know, if you have say six or seven students who are all in a bit of friendly competition and trying to work out what the world is going to be, you just come up with these these, these amazing, diverse worldscapes which is very cool.

Ben Skinner 21:30

Matt Esteler 21:30
Moving on to international careers. So, we’ve had a pretty good track record of having students join us from overseas but also after graduation, we’ve had a pretty good track record of our grads going to work overseas. So we have the lovely Ben here who’s done that. We also have Wen who’s working in London at Double Negative, who was hired straight out of the course. We’ve now got Emma working in London as well. We’ve had other people in all kinds of other place as well, right across Asia.

And I think, what’s kind of worth pointing out is the, I’d say, is that demand is really growing. So, you know, if you think about the amount of screens around the world, I think it’s fairly simple and obvious to think about kind of movie theatres and TV screens, but then it also expands out to every mobile phone, every tablet, you know, and then coming up soon every AR and VR device No.

And all these screens are going to need content and all that content has to be made by people, and that’s why it’s a pretty busy industry for a job.

So, how to apply. Basically, go to the website, we’ve got all the instructions there. We try and run the application process a lot like industry, so it’s primarily portfolio based. So if you are focusing on the more visual sides of this industry, you just want to put together a collection of your best work.

If you’re a developer, tell us about the kind of technical projects you’ve worked on. Hey, Ben do you want to talk about some of the stuff you showed us when you applied?

Ben Skinner 23:08
Yeah, I kind of had a mix. I was interested in both. But on the code side, there’s a website where you can share code called GitHub. Right? So I shared a link to that. And I’d done some other projects, and I kind of just put the code up there. I also had like an Instagram where I’d been making some more technical art pieces, which I think I shared. Mostly just yet showing things, I was kind of a little bit worried about what to put in. I like wrote up for like a little email, which is probably very embarrassing if you read it back today. Just how excited I was to apply.

Matt Esteler
I have it here, I’m going to read it out to everyone.

Ben Skinner
Oh, good. Yeah, I think I found it by accident the other day, but no, yeah, just showing lots of everything I’ve done above a certain quality. Like I didn’t show them something I’d just worked on for five minutes, but stuff that I’ve done throughout my education.

Matt Esteler 23:56
Yeah, cool. It’s worth pointing out that it is a Masters, so you need to have an undergraduate degree or equivalent. So that can be x years of industry experience, or some sort of tertiary education degree. And, of course, a personal statement, which Ben was just talking about.

Once we get that, we will go have a look and we’ll work out if, if we want to have a chat. Then, we’ll organise a face to face interview, either through Skype or webcam or in person, and we’ll just have a little chat about the software you’ve used and maybe if you need to skill up on some things before we start with us.

But really importantly, we need, it’s good to get your application in early because quite a few times we’ve had people apply and, and they fell short with the work and you can see that there’s potential, but they’re missing a component. But if you get it in say around now, there is time to get that skill up to standard and we’re more than happy to give people advice and say, well, if you just learn this thing that’ll, that’ll tip you over the line.

We are pretty busy on the social medias. So we’re always sharing all our news and tips and tricks and videos and teasers and stuff on all the things. And we have a lot of our work up on our website as well. So there’s a link there.

Well, thanks for joining everyone. Thank you, Ben. It’s been fabulous, as always.

Ben Skinner 25:30
Thanks for having me, it’s been good.

Matt Esteler 25:30
You’re a peach. Alright, I think that’s it. So thanks all and we’ll talk to you soon.